Review by Lauryn Angel
It seems that all the movies I loved as a kid are getting remade or rebooted these days. That’s not always a bad thing, though. Disney in particular is guilty of rebooting their animated films as live-action films. While those films are very well done, they sometimes fall a little flat, as the story remains largely the same. So I was more than a little skeptical when I heard that Disney was re-making Pete’s Dragon, one of my favorite films as a kid, in which an animated dragon named Elliot co-stars in a live-action film.
Fortunately, writer/director David Lowery and his screenwriting partner Toby Halbrooks have made a delightfully charming film.
One of the first changes Lowery and Halbrooks made is to the dragon himself, Elliot, choosing to create a furry dragon. The goal was to create a dragon that was “cuddy” rather than scary. And while Elliot is certainly cuddy, he can be pretty intimidating when the story calls for it. Ultimately, I left the film wanting an Elliot of my own – no doubt Disney will capitalize on this with a line of stuffed Elliots, as I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt this way.
But aside from the dragon, the story is the real reason to see Pete’s Dragon. The film opens with the tragic story of how Pete (Oakes Fegley) becomes orphaned and lost in the woods. Just when things seem darkest for Pete, he meets a dragon – whom he names Elliot after a character in his favorite book. The film then jumps forward six years, when a lumber company run by Gavin (Karl Urban) comes close to their habitat. Gavin is the brother of Jack (Wes Bentley), whose fiancée, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) is a park ranger set on preserving the forest habitat. It’s Jack’s daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence) who discovers Pete, causing the well-meaning Grace and Jack to “rescue” Pete, thereby separating him from Elliot. As if Elliot is not distraught enough because of this separation, Gavin decides to make the dragon his ultimate hunting trophy, which ultimately causes Elliot to reveal himself to the town.
Lowery and Hallbrooks have said that they loved the original Pete’s Dragon as kids, but that they deliberately did not go back to watch it before writing the film. This worked well for the film, as it freed them from the idea of recreating the original and allowed them to create something largely original. The film is driven more by performance than story, with Robert Redford’s performance as Grace’s father – the old man who claims to have actually seen the mythical dragon of the north woods – the heart of the film. Redford’s character is really the heart of the movie – the old story-teller who not only tells us a great tale, but reminds us that stories and magic are important parts of our lives.
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